The Life Writer’s Lamp of Art

By Threasa Meads

In his memoir, Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov says:

Neither in environment nor heredity can I find the exact instrument that fashioned me, the anonymous roller that pressed upon my life a certain intricate watermark whose unique design becomes visible when the lamp of art is made to shine through life’s foolscap.

By employing his descriptive, poetic, reflective, and informative writing skills to tell his life stories, Nabokov was able to shine the lamp of art upon his memories and reveal what until then had been hidden.

Whatever form of Life Writing you are interested in, the lamp of art is available for you to take on your writing journey.

Life Writing itself is quite a broad umbrella term for many forms of writing. The Oxford Centre for Life Writing states that it ‘encompasses everything from the complete life to the day-in-the-life, from the fictional to the factional. It embraces the lives of objects and institutions as well as the lives of individuals, families and groups.’

Whether you’re interested in recording travel memories or preserving family stories for loved ones, or you want to craft a personal essay, or research a fascinating historical figure, or discover a new form, the techniques of Life Writing can turn simple facts into engaging narratives, bringing stories and the people in them to life on the page. Learning how to employ the lamp of art through the artful storytelling techniques of point-of-view, characterisation, dialogue, setting, plotting, figurative language, imagery and theme, among others, can help you to reveal clues to the hidden stories of the self, and perhaps illuminate something beautiful and intricate that you have yet to see.  4.2.7

My workshop, Lifting the Lid on Life Writing, which is part of the SAWC’s Life Writing/Memoir Bootcamp For Adults in October, is designed to give you practical skills for creating memorable Life Writing. It will teach you how to transform real-life events into stories, and enrich your writing practice by discovering new forms. In short, it will introduce you to Nabokov’s lamp of art, and show you how to shine it on your life and the lives of others to reveal their ‘unique designs’.

Threasa Meads is an award winning writer and teacher. She is a graduate of Queensland University of Technology’s Creative Writing program and is currently completing her PhD at Flinders University. Her literary fiction, speculative fiction, creative non-fiction, essays and poetry have been published in anthologies, street press and in online and print literary journals. Threasa’s autobiographical novella, Nobody, was shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award in 2008 and awarded a Varuna Publisher Fellowship in 2009. In 2012 she received a teaching award ‘in recognition of her outstanding contribution to teaching in the School of Humanities’ from Flinders University, and was Emerging Writer in Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre.


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